27 October 2016

Having Unique Experiences

We’ve talked a good deal about the lounges to be found throughout Walt Disney World recently. La Cava del Tequila started the trend that has only strengthened with the additions of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, Nomad Lounge, and many others. Each of these respites in the wilderness of theme park travel personifies the trend that guests are looking for craft cocktails and high caliber small plate options. Today, we’re set up with another pairing, this time from the Nomad Lounge in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that I chose a bourbon drink for my first taste from Nomad Lounge. The beverage menu itself is extensive and has something for just about every taste (and I know because I went to the opposite end of the spectrum after this drink), but I opted for the Tempting Tigress to start. This drink is comprised of Russell’s Reserve 10-year Bourbon, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Tamarind Syrup, and Lime Juice. Something about the combination of bourbon and lime has been intriguing to me recently, and this drink did not disappoint.

The Tempting Tigress is a sweet and spicy concoction. The warmth of the bourbon and allspice dram make this taste familiar, even if it is a combination you’ve never tried or thought to try before. The tamarind is the only real sweet note in the Tigress, but it still makes itself known. As for the lime juice, it is the tartest element, but it plays nice with everyone else in the cup.

For an accessory, I decided to try the off the menu option of the bread service, which is also available at the adjoining Tiffins. The service includes three breads (papadum, naan, and pomegranate focaccia) and four spreads (black bean hummus, pomegranate molasses and olive oil, lime chutney, and yogurt harissa). This is a vibrant selection, filled with novel tastes and inspired combinations, and I should know, I mixed every single accompaniment with every type of bread. We’ll break each one down in just a second, but I want to stop for just a minute to let you know that even though this is a delicious bread service, it does not reach the level of Sanaa’s bread service smorgasbord.

Papadum is made from chickpeas and is extremely thin and crispy when done correctly, as it is done at Nomad Lounge. Naan is a typical flatbread, and is well established on property with its variety of flavors over at Sanaa. Last, but certainly not least, is the pomegranate focaccia, the most traditional loaf of the three, its multigrain and pomegranate ingredients give it a distinctly tart flavor.

The black bean hummus offers a unique take on the most popular of spreads we all keep in our house these days, it is dryer than most hummus, but has a unique flavor all its own. The pomegranate molasses and olive oil requires mixing before each use, but it is rich and biting. Next up, the lime chutney, has a zing to it that most chutneys lack in their hurry to pack in fruit flavors. The harissa yogurt is as complex as it sounds, with the cooling nature of the yogurt acting as a balm against the spicy chili flavors of harissa.

My favorite combination was the papadum with black bean hummus. While there isn’t a combination I didn’t like, I would caution against combining the focaccia and molasses olive oil. The abundance of pomegranate in that grouping is, shall we say, a bit overwhelming.

The unique flavor pairings in both the bread service and the Tempting Tigress make these excellent partners in crime for your downtime at Nomad Lounge. Small plates and well put together cocktails are extremely popular these days, and most evenings I’d prefer to just have a beverage on my back porch, but the lounges of Walt Disney World make it difficult to pass up their offerings. Nomad Lounge is definitely a spot we will revisit again.

26 October 2016

Jack-O-Lantern Seeds

There are a lot of things to see around the Magic Kingdom at Halloween time. Some of the decorations, like the oversized Jack-o’-lanterns, are hard to miss. Then there are the smaller details, the site specific pumpkins and autumnal bunting, which we all see but maybe get overlooked a bit. Some of my favorites, however, cross into both categories.

The scarecrows that populate Town Square are obvious, but they have some details that could possibly go unnoticed. If you look, each scarecrow is actually modeled after a role or Cast Member from somewhere on Main Street, U.S.A. We have two members of the Main Street Philharmonic, a baker, a confectioner, a baseball player that would be right at home at Casey’s Corner, a shopkeeper from the Emporium, and the Mayor. There is also a scarecrow with a fancy gown, umbrella, and purse. There have many ladies to call Main Street home over the years, but this appears to be a reflection of Hildegard Olivia Harding. Each outfit the scarecrows wear looks as if it came from each Cast Member themselves, and that the clothing was well-worn and well-loved by the individuals who gave them up for the scarecrows. Even if they’re oversized and not made out of cloth!

25 October 2016

Urban Illusion

The Streets of America are all but gone, making way for the future of Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the form of Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land. Or, as I like to call them, Planet X and Andy’s Backyard. It’s been less than a year since the lands were shuttered, so it may be a little early to be calling it the world of yesterday, but even the land that closed was far different than the New York Street that originally opened in 1989 as a part of Disney-MGM Studios. While there are many examples of what changed between the opening and closing of the Streets of America, the façades and painted backdrop at the end of New York Street offers a great point of study.

Let’s start with this painted backdrop from the earliest days of the park. In fact, this photo of the New York cyclorama, the name given to painted backdrops that have been fastened to a flat, stationary surface, actually predates the opening of the park by a year and was taken in 1988. We can talk all we want about forced perspective, about how the Empire State Building is only 80 feet tall and the buildings in the foreground are only 40 feet tall, but in terms of what’s changed over the years, we need to focus in on the gritty details. Look at the individual signs and names all throughout the picture and also make sure to take note of the tops of the buildings forming the horizon.

It’s almost like trying to find what’s been changed between two pictures in the comics section of the newspaper, but have you study it enough? Okay, here’s the same skyline from 2010.

In the foreground, the Lucas Paints sign has been removed and the wedge, or flatiron, building has been given a sign that reads HOTEL at its back corner. Speaking of hotels, the Hotel Pouilly has become the Amsterdam. In addition, between the times of the Pouilly and Amsterdam the drugstore sign was also removed. The PARKING sign on the left hand side of the street would change into stating PARK HERE and on the right hand side of the street a smaller streetlamp was added. It is the changes to the parking sign in particular that show the changes were made to show a different era on New York.

Remember how I also said to look at the horizon? While no buildings were removed or added to the skyline, there was a change over the years. The furthermost building in the middle of the street had some changes. During the early years it would have a sculpted looking top section, reminiscent of 55 Central Park West from Ghostbusters (you know, the home of Zuul). However, in the 2010 photograph we can see that the building was made to look thinner, with a smaller penthouse level, with the sculpted corners becoming slivers of new buildings.

I imagine there will be some usage of force perspective in the new Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land. After all, these effects haven’t just been used on the Streets of America, but all over the parks worldwide, including the world building that was done for Radiator Springs, a complete environment whose construction is the closest thing we’ve seen to what Star Wars Land will become. Looking back at the cyclorama and how it transformed over the years reminds us that the parks are continually changing; whether it’s the changes of a small sign, the color of rocks in Tomorrowland, or moving something beloved into our memories.

20 October 2016

Made with Pure Spring Water

The story of Disney Springs, for those of you that may have missed it, is tied explicitly to water. I know, I know, you think it’s crazy that I’m telling you it isn’t tied to Indiana Jones, great food, and excellent cocktails. But those lights that shimmer off of the crystal clear blue water (I really wanted to use a Candle on the Water reference here, but I behaved myself), the picturesque setting where houses were built and later businesses thrived, that is where the story Disney Springs begins.

Growing up in central Florida, I’ve been known to take a dip in a spring or two, and the bright blue waters of the spring here, tucked between The Landing and Town Center sections, are incredibly reminiscent of the watering holes I spent my childhood around. There are a multitude of ways for which the water could be siphoned off from the spring, but Disney has chosen to give us an hands on example in the heart of Town Center.

This is an Archimedes’ screw, and you can actually work the dial in order to pump water from the spring. As you spin the pipe that runs along the center of the screw the water is carried up, eventually spilling out over the top. The design does allow for some of the water to run off prior to reaching the top, and it takes a fair amount of turning to make sure you get more water than you lose, but this type of water pump has been used since the third century BC. So, you know, it’s tried, true, and tested. Most often it is propelled by hand, but it can also be attached to a windmill. It is commonly used in irrigation, but that isn’t to say that it couldn’t be utilized for collection purposes in case you wanted to, I don’t know, bottle and sell the water?

Disney Springs long ago decided to bottle its most valuable resource and situate its marquee business right alongside the spring in The Landing. The Springs Bottling Co. may have turned over its warehouse to Morimoto Asia, but the sign still lights up every night. That’s not the only reference to the warehouse’s former life either. Inside guests can see rows of the bottles sitting perfectly still along the conveyor line, forever locked in place from the moment the Springs Bottling Co. stopped its operation. The make for great reflectors of light, and I even hear that there are surplus bottles available for sale down in the Marketplace.

Of course, this is Florida, and what good is water if it isn’t ice cold? Heading back across the spring to the Town Center, we stop off at Sprinkles. Now a cupcake lover’s dream, the exposed brick, flaking plaster, and windows reminiscent of garage doors reveal a much more industrial purpose for which this structure was once used. Once you’ve gotten your cupcake fix, either inside the bakery or from its ingenious Cupcake ATM, take a peek around the corner on the patio. Here are the remnants of an ice making business. Spring water would make for great ice that could be transported in large blocks to local businesses and homes. This is precisely what the Sunshine State Ice Works thought when they opened their doors.

The community of Disney Springs quite literally has spring water running through its veins. From old water tower to the Village Lake, the waters here have given life to businesses, myths, agricultural exploits, transportation, and so much more. It is a story that you can see repeated over and over in small, tight-knit communities all throughout Florida. While there are more stories to uncover, and histories to be told, there wouldn’t be a Disney Springs if it weren’t for the spring’s waters themselves.

19 October 2016

Buy Now, Sleigh Later

Whether you’re on the water park bunny slopes or a black diamond slider, everyone works up an appetite at Blizzard Beach. There are plenty of eateries set-up all around the park, but let’s be honest, when you’re playing away at the water park, you’re looking for something sweet. There are a couple of items that are served up at the park that could satisfy your sweet tooth before, or after, hitting the slopes, but are they equals? Today we’re going to review a pair of Blizzard Beach treats and hopefully not lead you astray.

The first of our duo comes straight from Lottawatta Lodge. After sun and fun, and maybe some chilly dips in the water, nothing sounds better than to grab a seat next to fireplace and dig into the S’Mores Bites. While this is typically a summertime treat enjoyed around a campfire, the idea of warm chocolate and marshmallows seems like a year round memory-maker. The bites come by the pair and appear to be overstuffed pop-tarts from the outside.

The graham cracker pastry is drizzled with both chocolate and marshmallow sauces. They appear to be heaping bites, and I expected more chocolate and marshmallow goodness to be filled on the inside. Unfortunately, these bites are almost all air pastry shell. The filling barely registered in the doughy graham cracker casing, and nothing about it seemed particularly appeasing to me and no one in my party could even bring themselves to finish the pair.

In the hopes of saving our snack attack, I began an expedition for something to satisfy. It was a harrowing journey that took me, well, literally across the path from the Lottawatta Lodge to a small shack with a sign that simply read “Mini Donuts.” It also happens to serve Joffrey’s Coffee, in case you’re looking for your caffeine fix. The donuts come in plain take-out containers in half or full dozens and are coated in cinnamon-sugar. For an additional cost you can also add chocolate, raspberry, or white chocolate dipping sauces.

In all seriousness, these donuts were delicious. They were fresh and hot, had just the right amount of sweetness, and their size meant that you could easily pop an entire donut right into your mouth. For those of you who like your donuts extra sweet, there is plenty of the cinnamon sugar mixture in the bottom of the take out container for you to dredge your donut through. These would make a great snack before you start your day at Blizzard Beach, as an in between meals snack, or to as you leave to send you on your way smiling.

Blizzard Beach has a lot to offer, and I don’t just mean the chairlift and Slush Gusher! It has some great snack options and some not so great snack options. Ice cream is always an easy win, but if you’re looking for something a bit different than the usual snack suspects make sure you make the right choice. In my book, the mini donuts at Blizzard Beach, which can also be found at Typhoon Lagoon, are the real snack of slope champions!

12 October 2016

A Fisherman's Prayer

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster of a week around here. We’ve been worried about friends and family that were in the path of Matthew, and continue to watch as the floodwaters continue to rise in the eastern part of North Carolina where we have many friends who are currently safe. Yet, that worry doesn’t leave you. There was also the end of the Main Street Electrical Parade’s run at the Magic Kingdom. I’ve thought often this week about the many magical times I was able to view this parade, and what it meant to me as a child and an adult. And then I turn my attention back to the wake of Matthew and wonder about Hilton Head Island and Disney’s resort there in particular.

Very little has been known about what the state of the island is. In fact, residents were only permitted to return to the island late yesterday. What we have seen has been truly heartbreaking. The miniature golf courses that we frequent when we were there are wrecked. Giant oaks have been forcefully removed from the ground, root systems and all, and even some of the palms are bent at unnatural angles. Docks are gone, homes and cars are resting places for the aforementioned trees, and water is still standing where it shouldn’t be.

The website for Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort only states that the resort is currently closed due to Matthew and that it will be reopening to guests as soon as possible. I’ve been able to catch the tops of trees and the roof of the Live Oak Lodge from photos posted online of the Shelter Cove Marina, which looks to be in pretty fair shape compared to other parts of the island. This is all that I’ve been able to gleam in the past several days however.

Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, and the larger island at that, is a home away from home for the missus and I. It is the place where we can truly relax, play recreational games that we don’t play in our daily lives, listen to a story or visit with Shadow, and let the world slip by for a little while. All of the staff at the resort and residents we meet at restaurants, shops, or other touristy locations are nothing but friendly and some of the warmest people you could ever hope to meet. It is a place that holds a special place in my heart.

It does not appear that anyone passed away due to Matthew on the island, so I have can release the fear of physical harm coming to these individuals that are so near and dear to us. Even from the start I was never too worried about Shadow, I assumed she would be taken good care of. But I do worry about spots like this.

It is one of the largest oak on the resort. The road next to it has to be made of cobblestones to allow for the massive root system that continually buckles pavement. Is it still standing? I can’t count how many children I’ve seen playing around this tree or sitting in the bends of other oaks on property. What of Fishing Pole jets out into Broad Creek, or the directional sign for resorts worldwide?

Hilton Head Island has also been in the midst of a dune revitalization project. From what I understand, the dunes have been washed away. How does that affect the beach areas surrounding Disney’s Beach House? I’ve heard of a piece of roofing near the Beach House that was dislodge, but noting of the Disney’s spot on the shore.

All of this is trivial compare to the loss of life, property, and livelihood people are feeling up and down the eastern seaboard this week. That said, the missus and I will be venture back down to Hilton Head Island in a few months. I think it is important to be there, to see the hurt and do our part to help with the recovery of a place we love. I don’t imagine it will be the same as the last time we visited, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still important to be there. For us it will be a time of rest, relaxation, and reflection, but I’m certain there will be more than one conversation with staff and island residents about what how they are doing and what we can do. Until we have more information, all we can do is hope for the best, worry, and remember.

11 October 2016

The Star of the New World's Fair

In the Carousel of Progress' opening scene between Jimmy and his father, John, guests are introduced to the stereoscope, Little Egypt, the hoochie coochie, and the concept of the World’s Fair all in a very brief exchange. The question is how much history is present and how much of it is historical fiction? This vignette truly relies on the connection between Little Egypt and the World’s Fair, and it may not be a straightforward as it is presented within the storyline of the Carousel of Progress.

Little Egypt is, not surprisingly, a stage name, but it is one that is actually attributed to three separate dancers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The three dancers in question were Ashea Wabe, Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, and Fatima Djemille. It is worth noting that  Fahreda also appeared under the name of Fatima, in case we needed something a little more convoluted to work through.

In 1893 the World’s Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago, the event would later become known as the World’s Fair. The Chicago event was slated to open in 1892 as a way to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas, but due to delays the Exposition would open to the public a year late. A feature of the Exposition that ran just off from the main event and featured sideshow attractions, including state and national amusements, was known as the Midway Plaisance. It would commonly be referred to as the Midway and it included aboriginal exhibits, snake charmers, winter sleds on wheels, and the highly sought after Cairo Street.

On Cairo Street was where visitors could find Little Egypt doing the hoochie coochie. Which Little Egypt you might ask? As it turns out it was both Fahreda and Fatima. The hip shimmying dance they performed was actually known as the Danse de Ventre during its performance in Chicago. It wouldn’t be known as the hoochie coochie, coochie coochie, or kouta kouta until after the Exposition. The art of the Danse de Ventre would eventually fall under the category of belly dancing or the more appropriate moniker of burlesque.

It seems like we’ve strayed a bit far from the Carousel of Progress and the World’s Fair in St. Louis, haven’t we? I think it’s time we return to the opening scene of the Carousel of Progress where we were looking at a home sometime after the turn of the century, in the early 1900s. With the mention of the St. Louis World’s Fair, or the Louisiana Purchase Exposition as it was known at the time (I’ll give you one guess what it was celebrating), we can assume we’re visiting around 1904 or 1905. The problem with the Little Egypt nod is that she wasn’t a highlight of the fair the way she was in Chicago’s Exposition.

That isn’t to say that belly dancing wasn’t there or that it couldn’t have been performed by Little Egypt. In fact, by the turn of the century, anything resembling burlesque could and would be known as the hoochie coochie. Similarly, there were many impersonators performing under the name of Little Egypt. So while there may have been a Little Egypt in St. Louis, it may not have been one of the original namesakes or even the original dances.

World’s Fairs are incredibly important to Disney, and the Carousel of Progress in particular. After all, it was the Carousel family that made their debut at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The next time you’re taking a turn through the century, just remember how important all the little vignettes are to the pop culture of the American family. Who knows what bit of history is shining at the end of every scene, even if it might be a step out of time.

05 October 2016


Adventureland, and in particular the skippers around the land, have a long history with chicken and chicken-like food. The lunch menu for the crew mess hall at the Jungle Cruise lists all sorts of tasty delicacies that have a recurring flavor profile. From the Barbecued Three-Toed Skink to the Fillet of Rock Python, everything has a distinctly chicken taste to it. Across the way at the Skipper Canteen, they take their chicken seriously, although not that seriously, when they offer up the real deal in the form of their “Tastes like Chicken” – Because it is!

The dish features a crispy fried chicken that is drizzled with a chili glaze and comes paired with citrus and ginger-scented rice and seasonal vegetables. I’m not going to lie, even looking at the picture now is making me hungry. If presentation is everything, then there is no doubt that this photograph worthy entrée is definitely worth ordering. Of course, no one wants to eat a picture, so what does the Tastes like Chicken actually taste like?

Chicken, of course! But this isn’t your colonel’s fried chicken. The Tastes like Chicken passes my most critical test when it comes to fried chicken, and that is the breading on the chicken. It is super crunchy and does a superb job of keeping the chicken breast juicy while not becoming mushy or soggy itself. The breading isn’t over seasoned, likely just some salt and pepper, and it lets the chicken and glaze shine through. Speaking of the glaze, the sweet and spicy chili glaze does a great job of providing some heat to the chicken. It’s the kind of heat that builds throughout the meal, but doesn’t leave you in a flop sweat or is hot just for the sake of being hot, so it is definitely family-friendly.

When paired with a bite of chicken the orange and ginger-scented rice will remind you of Chinese fare, such as a dish like orange chicken, while not being too on the nose. On its own however, the rice does a good job of being flavorful, but not overpowering. If you happen to pick up some of the glaze with the rice, then that bite will be so much the better for you. The seasonal vegetables have everything that you would expect, from carrots to something green, and even some red onion to complete the ensemble. They are thinly sliced and add an element of something fresh to the meal while not pushing themselves to the forefront of each bite.

Friday is always chicken day in the Jungle Cruise’s crew mess, but no matter what day you visit the Skipper Canteen, chicken is always on the menu. The Tastes like Chicken – Because it is! is a dish that is filled with familiar and tried and true flavors. It leaves nothing to be desired from its preparation to its presentation, which is saying something when we consider how bland or generic chicken can be. This is a delicious meal that I would definitely order again. And it is certainly better than the Consomme of River Basin Slug the skippers have to eat on Wednesdays!